This year we decide to read Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. It’s an excellent book. We spend the first 30 minutes discussing the assigned chapters. It has been a goal at Hemmeter to make our school more student-centered. The book has some great suggestions. We share ideas to get students blogging and switching over to student-developed portfolios. Teachers share experiences working with SeeSaw and Animoto, the feedback they have received from parents, and how they will use the tools differently the following year. We have a great discussion about giving our students the power to interrupt the class using a technique called “give me five.”
Inevitably, the conversation moves away from the book and into other ideas for the school. This is the part I really love. I don’t know if it is the calm of summer or the recharged batteries, but ideas always flow better at these “book club” meetings. We don’t have lesson plans to finish or committee meetings to attend. It’s just a cup of coffee and the most dedicated educators trying to solve the world’s problems. No one leads the discussion, no one keeps time, and no one takes minutes. Everyone contributes and usually leaves with a multi item to do list.
The conversation starts with “Buddy Benches.” A Buddy Bench is a spot on the playground where students can go if they don’t have a buddy to play with at recess. Students simply sit on the bench and wait for other students to come and invite them to play. We talk about how we want to build the bench. We settle on having the students paint the bench with thumbprints. We brainstorm how we will introduce the bench to students.
Next, the conversation moves to reading. We love the progress we have made in this area. Our school is truly a community of readers. We have book doors, author visits, and huge school and classroom libraries. Almost the entire staff attends Nerd Camp and the Michigan Reading Association annual conference. Our students, parents, and staff value reading. While our NWEA and M-STEP reading scores are some of the highest in the state, they still fall behind our high expectations. We talk about giving the students more opportunities to reflect on their reading, spend more time conferring and annotating authentic text. We also agree that we need to research the types of tasks students are asked to complete on the state assessment. There is a disconnect somewhere between the taught and assessed curriculum.
This discussion leads to a conversation about how to handle curriculum night next year. For the past two years, we have held an open house and hosted a math night. We adopted a Singapore math curriculum two years ago and spent a lot of time explaining the philosophy to parents. We used curriculum night to focus almost exclusively on math. However, everyone agreed it was time to alter the plan. Parents were comfortable with the math program and students have shown great improvement in math. We agreed curriculum night should change its format to give equal emphasis to the other subjects. We kicked around different formats and dates/times.
It is almost time for our session to end. I see a couple of teachers are smiling sheepishly. They have the come-on-who-is-going-to-ask-the-question-we-are-all-wondering-about-look on their face. Without missing a beat, Nicol asks, “So have any decisions been made about the open teaching spot?” I love the openness of our school. No one is afraid to ask a question or suggest an idea. I am not the boss. It’s just not how we run things. We collaborate on every decision. Everyone has a voice. Everyone supports each other. That’s what I love most about book club. It’s a time for the staff to get together and plan for the future. It’s a time to collaborate. It’s a time to be inspired by each other. I sit back and smile before answering Nicol’s question. I think about how much I love the teachers around this table. I think about how they spend their summer reading, learning, and collaborating to give our students that best education possible. I think about how lucky I am to be at Hemmeter. I would never dream of hiring a teacher without their input and approval. “We are putting together a team of teachers to help pick the person next week,” I reply. Everyone leaves but I sit back for a few minutes. I enjoy the last few drops of the sweet, sweet Butter Bear. It’s an amazing group of teachers. I push in my chair already thinking about the logistics of building the buddy bench.